Spotlight on TCBA and the Future of Mail Leagues
This week well move away from the more generic issues of why join or why start a league and take an inside look at TCBA, one of the oldest and most successful APBA baseball leagues, through the eyes of TCBA Prez. Marty Fiehl. But before we get to Marty lets sow the seeds for next weeks topic.
Is the BBWIN version of APBA baseball helping or hurting the future of mail leagues?
Think about it for a moment - Ive heard from a number of mail leaguers and youve read some of their comments in previous AO Leagues columns. An oft-repeated common thread is how veteran mail leaguers graduated from playing solitaire to leagues because they were looking for someone to help get a season played. Or they wanted to experience having someone else make roster, lineup and managerial decisions so they could concentrate on managing just one team.
If we were somehow able to roll back the clock 20-25 years AND still retain access to our computers and BBWIN with all its bells and whistles, would those same ex-solitaire players have sought out others and formed leagues?
One can make a pretty good argument that with its next release BBWIN may have plugged many of the gaps that let leagues trickle into a solitaire players life. The new version of Advanced Draft will include an intelligent draft module that can probably pick players as well as many of our cronies in leagues (maybe better if you think back on some of the bonehead moves weve seen others never us <VBG!> - make over the years!)
When you add this new version of AD to the already existing features such as Statmaster, AIM, LMPT, an increasing number of era specific micro managers and all those utilities like A+ and ATM, the package seems to be getting pretty close to nirvana for the baseball shut in <G!> So where is all the new blood going to come from if one of the primary motivating factors for seeking out a league is being programmed out of existence??
Now back to our regularly scheduled program Marty and the grand old men of TCBA.
TCBA was formed as two independent perpetual ownership draft leagues (the AL and the NL) back in Basic Game board days of 1974. The two leagues officially split up in the late 80s and went their separate ways when Martys half (the AL) decided to encourage conversion to the DOS computer game. TCBA AL was renamed TCBA TODAY in 1994 when it again transformed into two separate leagues with the birth of its retro counterpart, TCBA YESTERDAY. TODAY is currently ensconced in its annual schedule using the 1997 data disk while YESTERDAY is wrapping up 1968 and moving backwards to 1967 this fall. Together the two leagues have contributed almost 30 complete seasons to the TCBA Record Book and Encyclopedia. Between them the two TCBA leagues number 40 teams (24 in TODAY and 16 in YESTERDAY) and 28 individual members. An original charter member from 1974, this is Martys second stint as TCBA President.
AO: By my count TCBA has had just over 65 managers take turns at the helm of teams over its 25 years of existence. Excluding the YESTERDAY league, I guess youve averaged about 20 teams in the league for most of those years. In manufacturing terms youve turned over the "inventory" of members just about three times. <G!>What are the major causes of manager turnover?
MF: Although it seems a lot when you say that weve had "three inventory turns" regarding the managers that have come and gone, I very much believe that we are as stable as any league out there.
7 managers are Charter Members since our inception in 1974 that means 24 years of service.
4 managers fall in the 17-21 years of seniority bucket.
4 managers fall in the 8-15 years of seniority bucket.
So 15 out of the 20 currently active teams have had long and stable histories. Our problem has been with the 40 or so other managers that it takes to manage those last five teams!<vbg>
Now, back to your question on the causes of manager turnover
3) Disenchantment with the direction of the league. The Core group knows who we are, what we do, what weve done, and where we are going. We have the experience of what has happened in the past and we draw upon that knowledge a lot in what we propose for the future. On the other hand, a new member really doesnt know what hes getting into until theyve been with us for a year or so and get a feel for the style of leadership and each individual manager. Im not trying to paint a picture that we are an old stodgy stubborn group its just that when coming into an organization that has been in existence for 24 years, it only makes sense that we cant make quick, radical changes to satisfy the one when the many have spent the last two decades sculpting and evolving the league to get it to where we are today. We once had a pair of new managers that were fervently proposing rule changes before they even played their first game. They are no longer with us. I guess it was just too frustrating for them to stay.
4) Paradigm shift in technology. Historically, whenever we made a move to "modernize" with the evolution of APBA we would always lose a person due to their lack of desire to change. Oh, it could be moving from the standard board game to the Master game. Or later on from the Master Game to the DOS Computer game. Heck, moving to the computer game literally split our league in two as the TCBA NL went their way maintaining a dice and cards way of life, and the TCBA AL reformed while embracing the new computer game as the way to play. Next move was Baseball for Windows. Weve lost one or two in the last few years only because they didnt want to progress. We miss them, but we move on.
AO: How do you recruit and what are the deciding factors in selecting a good manager?
MF: We recruit in a variety of ways.
As for factors in selecting a good manager ..this is where it gets tough. A lot of times you just dont know what you have until you have it.<g> I try to start a dialog with a perspective manager and have it last for a couple of months if possible. You can get somewhat of an insight into a person's personality and goals by this. Certainly, it isnt foolproof, but it's better than just selecting names out of a hat.
Geography comes into play as for TCBA Today we have our annual 3 day meeting in Lancaster in February. With a Live Rookie draft, a live Free Agent draft, and various business and rules meetings scheduled, its pretty close to mandatory that the members attend.
So we look for new members that are in the East and Northeastern United States that would make a commitment to us to attend.
Computer literacy is a requirement. We dont need a technowhiz (although Id never turn one down), but we require the person to know how to load programs, copy files, exchange Franchise Files, receive spreadsheets and docs, and handle any computer problems that come his way.
References from other leagues would be great, experience in other leagues would be great, BUT at the same time, if someone is already in 4 leagues when hes asking for membership in ours, I tend to shy away as I dont want to be 5th on his list of monthly games to play. If he falls behind in his schedule, it would be the TCBA that would suffer.
Diplomacy, communications skills, and an outgoing personality are a definite plus. We want this person to interact and become friends with the rest of the members. We want this relationship to span a good number of years. I tend to shy away from the 18-22 year old crowd. Im looking for the middle aged baseball fan with a family and career already well under way that wants a fun hobby, some personal contact, and a way to play out his youthful baseball fantasies. We want a responsible person who understands a timetable and a due date. We want the person to not only have fun playing the games, but more importantly, to have fun associating with the people in the league.
Familiarity with BBWIN and major league baseball is a must. Experience with BBDOS, the Master Game and the original board game are feathers in ones cap. As for the deciding factor for selection ..being on the Backup List when I get a managers resignation is critical. As with everything else in life: timing is everything.
AO: By now youve read Jesse Elickers comments about his problems with TCBA NL and managers who hid behind the letter of the law of the TCBA Constitution. Do you have any similar concerns in your part of TCBA?
MF: I understand exactly what Jesse is saying, and I DO sympathize with him. I know in the past when we were associated with the NL and had to have joint Rules Discussions it would seem that hours would go by while a number of their side would nit-pick a rule to death. They would have to come up with every possible exception or possibility that could ever happen during a game and discuss the ramifications of it and enact a rule to either prevent it or allow it.
In all honesty, it was one of the major reasons we broke away and formed our own group.
For the most part in the TCBA Today (formerly AL) group I have no such concerns. Most of us have been together for such a long time we would never jeopardize our friendships by trying to get the best of the other one by citing an obscure rule or offering a wild-ass interpretation of what the rule means. If something new comes up, we generally just discuss it and solve it in a common-sense manner. Generally, the game doesnt take priority over our relationship with each other.
The Commish has the final say on interpreting the rule book, so if there is something in there that isnt covered, hopefully I have enough common sense to be able to make a ruling on it that makes sense. And if I chicken out from making the decision, I can always send it down to a 3 person Rules Committee and put them on the hot seat for a ruling. The need for this is again, rare
AO: What are some of your worst "nightmare manager" stories?
MF: In the early 80s we had a manager that just totally and absolutely dominated the league. He built his team by some unscrupulous trading practices. After a couple of 120 win seasons, the rest of the league just got fed up. Managers in his division just gave up and quit, others got disgusted and quit, he was asked to throw in his team and redraft for the good of the league; but he refused. He eventually just quit in the middle of the season leaving us hanging. We operated at 14 teams (out of 20) for a year. We re-organized, filled our openings with some superb managers who are still with us today, survived, got stronger, and learned an awful lot in the process. We will never let one manager damage the league again. Due process be damned.
AO: I understand TCBA recently made the switch to LMPT - any tips for us on how to make that transition easier for others considering the move?
MF: Yeah, get rid of the old farts like myself who were brought up on the cards and dice!<G> Seriously, its a bit of a paradigm shift for the membership, but if you have a couple of guys with some experience in LMPT and they are willing to type up a lot of "how to" primers, the rest of the membership will eventually come around.
It won't be smooth, and there will be lots of calls for tech help to someone in the league, but I think very shortly the league will realize its worth it.It really comes down to the individual members .are they resistant to change or will they embrace it. Just a few stubborn ones will sink your ship.
AO: Despite the change to LMPT, TCBA isn't using AIM. How come?
MF: Although I wouldn't totally rule it out for the future, at this point it just seems that there is too little of a window allowed to play the games to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone. I'm afraid we will lose members if the enjoyment goes out and pressure to play becomes the reason they hammer out the games.
For example, in TCBA Today, we have basically a 14 day window to play a series. At the same time, your away opponent has that same 14 day window. If we went to AIM, we would have to compress it to a 6 day window to play the first Home series, 1 day to send in results to the Commish and have him turn around a fresh C file. Then 6 days for the Away mgr to play the series, and 1 more day to report and turnaround of C file. It puts pressure on each mgr to make sure they are available to play in those 6 days allotted to them, and it puts pressure on the Commish to make sure He's available to receive and send out F and C files for that given day.
I'm just afraid that rather than having a leisurely 14 day period to play 7 games, a manager will get pressured to make sure his personal time to play them lines up with those 6 days in a three week time period. I foresee missed dates and frustration when we all have too many responsibilities in our personal lives already. People go out of town on business trips for a couple days at a time, there are vacations, hectic time periods, etc. The bigger the Window of Opportunity that exists to play, the easier and more enjoyable it is for the manager.
I think AIM is great but at the moment it seems better geared to solo replays rather than play by mail. I'm hoping that changes in future.[Webmaster note: By autumn 1998, Marty had been persuaded that full AIM was the way to go and led a unanimous movement by TCBA managers to adopt AIM for 1999. The change is working very well.]
AO: If TCBA where just starting out today (1998) what do you see as the major selling points for the league? Also what would be the major drawbacks to attracting the type of managers you now view as "good TCBA managers?"
MF: Well, we offer an opportunity for the BBWIN player to stop playing with himself!<g> ..It gives him a chance to open his personal fantasy world to one of 20 other guys. He can play the series face to face if he wants, or over the Internet via Netmeeting, and can match wits and managerial strategies against a real human instead of Blackie Dugan.
He can put together a team and play them on the field at the same time he watches them in the boxscores in the morning paper and every day he'll either be happy because his centerfielder hit another homer or sad because his pitcher got knocked out after 3 innings. He'll know that everything he does in real life this year is going to affect his TCBA team of next year.
If the manager isn't a fan of modern baseball, we can direct him to our Yesterday branch wherehe can hop on Netmeeting and start Bob Gibson against the other managers ace, Denny McLain in a matchup extrordinaire of the 1968 season. He can participate in a league with guys who appreciate this time period when baseball was really baseball instead of the WWF spectacle it has become today.
We have rules and limitations that have been honed and tweaked for the past two decades to make sure everyone gets a fair shake and no one can overuse a player. We've got a Pitchers Fatigue Schedule that was designed in 1974 and looks very similar to what was used by CSN in the 90's and mirrors the fatigue and recovery system in BBwin Aim. Its amazing how a system invented almost 25 years ago in the TCBA lives on even today.
Although a solo replay is certainly enjoyable, there is no one to call up and spout off after a memorable game. Here you can call the away manager and say, "Hey, you're not going to believe this, but I just scored 7 runs off of Clemens in the 2 inning and I beat you 7-6!"
Its all about friendly competition and making baseball friends. Thats what we offer.
The only two drawbacks I could come up with would be for someone that insisted on LMPT with Full Aim. And the geography requirement that requires them to attend the Lancaster meeting.
AO: League history and member camaraderie aside, what are some major accomplishments TCBA can point to as watershed moments?
AO: If TCBA were to come to an end tomorrow (God Forbid!) what do you suppose your members would do?
AO: Thanks Marty for letting us look inside TCBA. Can you come back and share thoughts with us on a continuing basis?